Ohio rescue squads stretched thin

By Patricia Ann Speelman – pspeelman@sidneydailynews

SIDNEY, OHIO — Every area volunteer rescue squad needs more help.

An investigation by the Sidney Daily News has determined that in many squads, members are stretched thin to provide adequate coverage.

Because of the plunge in volunteerism, the Jackson Center squad disbanded in 2014 and three other villages will submit a grant application to the state this September for funds to pay for a joint feasibility study. The councils of Minster, New Bremen and Fort Loramie hope the study results will help them decide how best to use their rescue squad resources in the future.

Each village has pledged funds to meet the required $4,000 match, should the $40,000 in state funds be granted. Minster has taken the lead in filing the application.

“The number of volunteers has been dropping,” Minster Village Administrator Donald Harrod told the Daily News. “Each one has had programs out there calling for more volunteers.”

“When (Harrod and I) were discussing the lack of volunteerism as a whole, we were looking at the future and talking about options,” said Bridget Sharp, president of the Minster Area Life Squad. “He found a grant that would pay, so specialists could look at options for towns like ours.”

The Daily News talked with chiefs and presidents of the Minster group, the New Bremen Emergency Squad Inc., Fort Loramie Rescue Squad, Houston Rescue Services Inc., Perry-Port-Salem Rescue Squad, New Knoxville Volunteer Fire Department, Quincy/Miami Township Emergency Rescue Services and Versailles Emergency Medical Services. Calls to the Anna Rescue Squad were not returned.

Every squad leader said more volunteers were needed, especially for daytime shifts. Most also echoed a concern voiced by New Bremen Squad Administrator Linda Emmons: “A lot of our members are older. We’re coming up on time to retire. If you don’t have younger people to fill slots, who’s going to take up the slack?”

And the problem isn’t a new one.

“We’ve needed help for the last couple of years,” said Houston Chief Kristi Branson. She’s not alone.

“We’ve been talking for three years,” said Emmons. “We can’t operate like this forever. I look at this feasibility study as help in what to do in the next 10 years, not just how do we get volunteers for two or three years. Eventually, we will have to be a paid department.”

All squads already have at least one paid employee, although the pay usually isn’t much. Some are on part-time contracts; a small few are full-time; and New Bremen pays everyone on the squad a token amount for being on call. But even offering compensation doesn’t always attract more help. The Houston Rescue Squad is currently trying to fill a full-time, paid position in addition to looking for volunteers.

Each representative stressed that, even with a lack of human resources, his squad has not lessened its level of response to its community’s calls for emergency medical service.

“We are a full-functioning squad,” said Minster’s Sharp. “We’ve been able to provide all emergency services to our community. More volunteers (would) allow current members to be less taxed. People can be committed longer when they have a balanced life.”

“We’re never at a comfortable level,” said Fort Loramie Chief Matt Frey. “The more people you have, you lighten the load for everyone else.”

Volunteers are on call for specific shifts that are determined in advance by squad leaders. They must live within a certain geographic radius of the central office to respond to a call for help within as short a time as possible. The fewer the number of volunteers, the more often they are on call and the longer their shifts are.

Rescue squads comprise four levels of staff. Emergency medical responders (EMR) must take a month of training. To become a basic emergency medical technician (EMT) requires completing a five-month course. Ten months of training are necessary for certification as an advanced emergency medical technician. The course to become a paramedic lasts for more than a year.

Every area squad pays or reimburses volunteers for the training costs. Some ask volunteers to commit to a year or two of service with the squad in exchange for the tuition coverage.

Squads provide mutual aid as needed. Chiefs of Perry-Port-Salem Rescue, Anna Rescue, Houston Rescue, Fort Loramie Rescue, Quincy Rescue, Minster Area Life Squad, Sidney Fire and Rescue; EMS coordinators from Wilson Health, UVMC and Miami Valley Hospital; Dr. Frederick Haussman, and Cheri Drinkwine, director of Shelby County Homeland Security and Emergency Management, comprise Shelby County Emergency Medical Service.

“We get together once every three months to talk about upcoming training that is going on in each department, what’s new, what are ways to improve what we do, bring to the table any issues we may be seeing/encountering and how to improve them. It’s a way for us all to come together and work as a team to ensure we are providing the best possible patient care we can,” said Perry-Port-Salem Rescue Chief Yvonne Brown in a recent email.

Information about each squad follows:

Fort Loramie Rescue Squad

Chief Matt Frey

• The squad: Two paid employees, a paramedic and an EMT who is currently completing courses to advance to the paramedic level.

“They stand by at the building during day time,” Frey said. In addition, the squad comprises 12 EMTs, two advanced EMTs, three paramedics and one EMR.

• The need: “We definitely have openings for other volunteers,” he said. There are also three junior members who are high school students. Observers are welcome.

“You come, you run with us, you see if you like it before we pay for classes,” Frey said.

• The shifts: Crews have three members and each crew covers a 12-hour shift (6 a.m. to 6 p.m. or 6 p.m. to 6 a.m.) every three days.

• Training cost covered: Yes. No time commitment required.

• Runs per year: About 250.

• Funding: A tax levied against residents of McClean, Turtle Creek and Cynthian townships and the village of Fort Loramie; what is termed soft billing of the insurance companies of patients served.

• For information: Call 937-295-2980 or email FLRSchief@nktelco.net.

Houston Rescue Services

Chief Kristi Branson

• The squad: 18, a mix of EMRs, EMTs, advanced EMTs and paramedics

• The need: 10 EMTs. “But we wouldn’t turn anybody away if they couldn’t make (that much of a) commitment,” Branson said. “If they come with no experience, we get them some experience. If it’s something they really want to get into, then we send them to school. There’s something for anybody to do. If medical help isn’t your thing, you can help around the building, mowing grass, filing, stocking trucks, ordering supplies.”

• The shifts: 12 hours. There are two day crews that cover every other day. Night crews cover every third night and weekends.

• Training costs covered: Yes.

• Runs per year: 250

• Funding: Tax dollars and soft billing of insurance companies of patients.

• For information: 937-214-0010.

Minster Area Life Squad

President Bridget Sharp

• The squad: 27 members, including one full-time and four part-time paid EMTs, who cover day shifts, and four EMRs. The remainder are a mix of EMTs, advanced EMTs and paramedics.

• The need: 10 EMTs. “And we could benefit from a few more drivers,” Sharp said. Drivers must complete a one-day emergency vehicle operations course.

In order to get more people help faster, the squad hopes to train citizens in a program called “Hometown Heart Zero.”

“We looking to train 500 people this year in CPR and cardiac arrest-awareness. Members of the squad will provide American Heart Association training for the public. The time it takes for the squad to get to someone having a cardiac emergency — it’s better if everyone can help,” Sharp said.

• The shifts: 12 hours, 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. or 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. for a week. One week on, two weeks off.

• Training costs covered: Yes.

• Runs per year: 200.

• Funding: Contracts paid by tax dollars collected by the village of Minster and Jackson Township in Auglaize County and Van Buren and McLean townships in Shelby County. Soft billing of insurance companies of patients.

• For information: www.minsteroh.com, click on “Rescue” in the “Municipal” drop-down menu.

New Bremen Emergency Squad

President Jason This; Squad Administrator Linda Emmons

• The squad: Four firemen drivers, five basic EMTs, three advanced EMTs, seven paramedics.

• The need: “We could use a few more (paramedics). I would not turn down someone from any level,” Emmons said.

• The shifts: Emmons asks members to report their availability for the following month and compiles monthly schedules based on the time each person can give.

“This is out of convenience for members,” said This.

“Some members do six or seven shifts a month. Some do 15,” Emmons said.

• Training costs covered: Yes. And stipend paid for being on call.

• Runs per year: 200-250.

• Funding: Tax levied against residents of the village of New Bremen and German Township and contract with the village. Soft billing of insurance companies of patients and Medicare.

• For information: Call 419-629-3837 and leave message or email nbems@nktelco.net.

New Knoxville Volunteer Fire Department

Chief Scott Schroer

• The squad: Five EMRs and eight EMTs, who are also certified as firemen.

• The need: “The number is sufficient, but we will always take more,” Schroer said. All emergency medical personnel in New Knoxville must be certified as firefighters first. The squad does not transport patients. It contracts with the city of St. Marys for transport services.

• The shifts: Unknown.

• Training costs covered: Yes.

• Runs per year: 100.

• Funding: Emergency medical services are funded by grants and soft billing of patients’ insurance companies.

• For information: 419-753-2050.

Perry-Port-Salem Rescue Squad

Chief Yvonne Brown; Recruitment Drive Chairman Scott Dickman

• The squad: 27 members, including two EMRs, 10 EMTs, four advanced EMTs, four paramedics, two drivers/firefighters and five trainees.

• The need: “We are always looking for new members,” Brown said. “We will accept people who are currently certified at any of those levels. We also accept people who are not certified at all.”

• The shifts: Monthly calendars for day and night shifts are compiled. Day shifts run from 5 a.m. to 5 p.m., and night shifts run 5 p.m. to 5 a.m., Monday through Friday. Night crews also cover Saturday and Sunday shifts, which are 24 hours each. Individual schedules are based on each volunteer’s availability.

“There is not a schedule that we can’t work around,” Brown said.

• Training costs covered: Yes, as reimbursement if it’s initial training; in advance for continuing education.

• Runs per year: 240.

• Funding: Tax levied against residents of Perry, Salem and Green townships and the village of Port Jefferson; and soft billing of patients’ insurance companies.

• For information: 937-538-1802.

Quincy/Miami Township Emergency Medical Service

Chief Mike Dodds

• The squad: Nine members, including two EMRs, five EMTs and two paramedics.

• The need: “We can always use more people,” Dodds said.

• The shifts: “People are on call,” he said. “When a call comes in, it they’re available, they respond. If no one responds, we have to call for mutual aid.”

• Training costs covered: “The state allows us to do training in house,” Dodds said. He and his wife are certified EMS instructors. “We ask for a one-year commitment.”

• Runs per year: 100.

• Funding: By township budget, soft billing of insurance companies and grants.

• For information: 937-538-1802.

Versailles Emergency Medical Services

Chief Matthew Harvey

• The squad: 11 EMTs, eight paramedics.

• The need: “We have openings, especially during the day. I’d like to have as many as I can get,” Dodds said. He’d like another eight paramedics.

• The shifts: 12 hours, 5 a.m. to 5 p.m. or 5 p.m. to 5 a.m.

• Training costs covered: Yes. “We ask for a two-year commitment. If you don’t complete the training, we ask to be paid back on a pro-rated basis,” Dodds said.

• Runs per year: 400.

• Funding: Unknown.

• For information: 937-526-4899.

Reach the writer at 937-538-4824.

Posted in Current Events, Fire Safety, Staffing.